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Apple Harvest Festival – 2009

October 6, 2009 Leave a comment

Officers of Friendship Lodge are joined by a few members of Frederick-Franklin on a nice October afternoon.

I can’t believe that this is my fourth time blogging about Friendship Lodge at the Southington Apple Harvest Festival. My first time was in 2006 when I was Master of the lodge, and really, not all that much has changed. Local businesses and street vendors still cross their fingers about the weather (apparently, those weather-changing HAARP beams aren’t supposed to be used frivolously), and the same members of Friendship still show up for the entire weekend to keep the food going. This year, however, we decided not to sell the “Philly” steak & cheese sandwiches that Friendship has sold for the last 15 years or so., and to concentrate just on selling the fried apple wedges that we’ve been perfecting for the last eight or nine years.

This was not an easy decision to make. Although it became clear that the sandwiches actually lost money during the last few years, the sheer amount of work involved to make them created a camaraderie that certainly added to the harmony of the members. How can you be upset with somebody who stood next to you, slicing the onions that you were peeling?  And few things help develop common trust like knowing that somebody will show up for the important, but oft-overlooked cleanup work.

Our initial weekend was marred by cloudy, drizzly weather that became a downpour by Saturday afternoon. But Sunday was warm and sunny, and the crowds were out in droves to taste the typical fair fare, to browse some of the craft booths, and to enjoy the weather.

Because nothing makes you look more cool than a black wool suit on a warm, sunny day.

This being the lodge’s largest (and essentially only) fund raiser, we count on good weather and healthy appetites for the two weekends that the festival takes place. The first weekend ended up doing fairly well, allowing us to cover our initial expenses. We’re hoping that next weekend will be even more successful.

Maybe we’ll see you there?

Lily work, Social Networks, and Pomegranates

March 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Here’s an interesting question: Are our modern Grand Lodge websites already obsolete?

At a committee meeting that I attended recently, the subject came up that some of our brothers were posting notices of lodge events on Facebook, which causes a problem for those brothers who aren’t connected to any of the dozens of social networking, blog-friending, or instant messaging hosts. The bigger concern, though, was that these events were not being published on the regular lodge web calendars.

This struck me as strange, because Grand Lodge of Connecticut has a fantastic web site, with hosting space for each lodge (each with their own domain), plus a web forum , and (and this is the important part) an easily updatable calendar that can be used as an event search tool. For example, as  District Grand Lecturer, I like to visit lodges that are having degree work. Going to the Grand Lodge calendar allows me to search on, say, EA degrees, only in District 5. This presents me with a list of the lodges doing an EA degree anytime in the next few months.

At least, that’s what I would see, if the lodge bothered to update their calendar.

I’ve written before that the reason I started blogging was that when I was Master back in 2006 I wanted an easy way to announce events, and at the time the then-new GL web site was pretty much hosed. Events were lost, half the people didn’t know how to use the controls, and the few lodges that cared enough to dress up their site a bit from the cookie-cutter template were constantly frustrated by frequent updates which would wipe out their changes or enhancements.

Fortunately that aggravation is long past; the website is much easier to use, and good features and enhancements have been added over the last few years. Changing your lodge home page is painless, and you can add lodge forums, photos, newsletters, etc. You know, just like a real organization should have.

Which brings me back to the subject at hand: Why would lodges – that is, lodge officers – with their own website and calendar functions turn to Facebook (or any of the other social networking sites) in order to pass along information?

I wouldn’t bring this up if I didn’t already have an opinion, of course.

I think it’s simply a matter of convenience and available technology. Web sites are so last century.

Yes, Joomla and Drupal and their various plug-ins have made large sites much easier to set up and maintain. The problem, though, is that you still have to actually make a point to go visit them.  While you might forget to visit a website to check for updates, there’s almost no danger of missing information on a social network, unless you overlooked it because of the sheer number of other updates you might be getting.

Facebook (for example) – especially with the Twitter application – allows you to customize the flow of information so that what you’re interested in comes to you, via your cell phone. Or your Crackberry. Or your email inbox. I can well understand the appeal, especially to those who pretty much live in front of their PCs; it’s definitely easy to send off an email or event notice to your named group, mention a few key details, and follow up with a little bit of chatter; the notices will have links to the events, and anyone getting automatic updates can immediately click the link (should they so desire) or forward the event to their online calendar.

By those standards, I feel like a moss-backed old turtle when I use my cell phone to send an SMS to my update my Google calendar, or to make a blog post via sending a multi-media message to my blogger address.

I understand the concern about lodge members – and not to be stereotypical, but it’s generally the younger members – Tweeting and Facebooking event details and updates. It inadvertently bypasses those who don’t live or work in front of a PC all day, or those who don’t care to immerse themselves in the Web 2.0 media stream. Entire events can be brainstormed and planned online in a matter of a couple of days without any need to meet in person. While it’s great for moving things along, the movers and shakers need to make sure that they aren’t neglecting the older members who have barely managed those wireless telephone thingies that all the kids have nowadays.

Interestingly, I’ve had exactly this conversation in the past, but in the context of static websites and emails being too “high tech” for the older members. Tempus fugit, eh?

Another concern that arose about the social networking sites seems to be the idea that it decentralizes the information, so that a) pretty much anybody (Masons or not) can see it, and b) the people who need to be informed – or at least, who think they need to be informed – might not get the information.

The validity of the first point seems a bit over-stressed, what with Dummies books, Idiots guides, dozens of personal blogs, and an almost weekly mention of the secret inner workings on the cable tv channels. Most Masons hip enough to be using Facebook are probably savvy enough to know what they should or should not be writing for public consumption anyway.

But the second point illustrates the constant tug of war between those who understand the need for some kind of central repository for information, and those who tend to adopt new tools,  techniques, and strategies when the need arises.

Obviously, having some central facility for knowledge and information is important to the success of an organization. In fact, I’d say it was inherent in the term itself. People who are in positions in which they are responsible for organizing and overseeing other people or projects really do need some way to get the information easily.

The problem with the “keep it in the house” attitude is that the structure itself often becomes more important than the contents and accessibility. Everybody involved in some way wants to have input on what kinds of and how much data should be stored, who can access the data, and how it should be managed. Then, add in those people who can’t or won’t figure out how to use the existing tools, and you have a situation in which only a few people will actually be using the tools on a regular basis. Eventually, the tools sit unused because they have limited usefulness.

There will always be pioneers and early adopters, people who will use new tools, or perhaps invent new uses for old ones. Such people drive the forces of innovation that allow us to progress as a society, whether it be to profit from more productivity with the same amount of work, or to have more leisure time, allowing us more opportunity for rest and refreshment. The early adopters also help to weed out those tools that aren’t useful, thereby saving the rest of us from wasting large amounts of time and energy.

Early adopters, however, often forget that not only are some people lagging behind a little bit, but that there a lot of people who aren’t even in the same race. Our lodge has at least one Past Master who insists that we send out postcards for major events so that people can hang them on the refrigerator as a reminder, and he is not amused to hear that newer appliances are connected to the internet so that one’s Google calendar can push the reminders to the door at the appropriate time.

I once told him the joke about Java once being something you’d find in your coffee mug instead of your cell phone.

He didn’t get it.

I’m not suggesting that the more static websites are no longer relevant, of course. We will always have a need for safe repositories for the archives of our Craft, and that includes a place to keep handy and useful information. I know that more US states over the last few years have taken the time and resources to create very impressive websites, although from what I can see, most of them are still merely online pamphlets explaining a bit about Freemasonry, and giving a few phone numbers and contact details. A good example is the site of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts: they have a beautiful Flash-driven website that offers some announcements and contact information, along with information about the fraternity; but there is no way to find anything about the lodges themselves, let alone a local calendar, unless that lodge (or a well-meaning member) bothered to put up their own web page.

Indeed, a few minutes of searching on the GL Massachusetts site shows that most of the lodges themselves don’t even have their own web pages, and those that do are a mishmash of 1990s style Geocities pages to more modern, media-laden websites. A perusal of the web sites of other Grand Lodges around the US shows that this is rather typical; I’ve seen a lot of Geocities and AOL personal pages hosting lodge websites, and while I admit that it seems I’m bit of a cyber-elitist, the more distressing part is that if my random surfing is any indication, the vast majority of lodges in the US don’t even have a website. In contrast, GL Connecticut gives web space to each lodge with a hosted dot org domain name, and the calendar for each lodge is tied in to the Grand Master’s calendar, so that once an event is entered, it can be searched from any other lodge calendar. Each lodge website is built on a Joomla template, allowing (if the lodge can find somebody to help them) plug-ins for picture albums, forums, and other little applications.

I can imagine some brothers from a few of the less tech-blessed jurisdictions wondering why anybody would resort to some outside service, considering what we have for web tools. We’re probably just spoiled up here.

With two-thirds of our population using broadband internet connections, and the merging of SMS/text messages into most of the social networking and micro-blogging services, it’s probably unreasonable to expect connected and tech-savvy Masons not to use them for communication, especially since they are probably already using these features for communicating with family, non-Mason friends, and work mates. As one of those aforementioned connected Masons, myself, I readily admit that I like the idea of being able to jump in and out of a conversation that might take place over several days. I find that the more I use Facebook, the more I enjoy the variety of features, and over the last six months or so, I’ve been using it more and often, to where I’m checking it several times a day. At least half of my contacts are Masons from around the globe, most of whom I know from the various web groups to which I subscribe, but I’m discovering more family members and old friends every month.

Ironically, despite the subject of this article, very few of my own lodge brothers use Facebook. They’re probably too busy with their personal WoW and Counterstrike servers.

As to the issue of some brothers using Facebook instead of their lodge websites, I think that first of all, any brothers that are taking advantage of new technologies to keep in touch should be applauded for their ingenuity. That said, perhaps those same brothers, being more tech savvy, should actually be the ones in charge of keeping the lodge websites updated, since they are already spending at least some time passing around event details; five minutes to access the calendar really shouldn’t be much of a stretch.

And that said, despite the fact that we probably have one of the best Grand Lodge websites in the US, maybe we need to look at some enhancements to make it even more accessible and usable for the technorati, and eventually for everyone else in the future. For example, RSS readers are now ubiquitous – not only are there a dozen popular readers for your browser, you can find them built into some email clients and Firefox browser extensions. Perhaps web calendar updates could be aggregated and syndicated for subscribers. Better, could the calendar updates be emailed to a subscriber list? Masons interested in the events in particular lodges could subscribe to the calendar updates, which could (perhaps) be filtered for event type.

But what about information flow in the other direction? The answer might be already available in the form of microblogging : There are a dozen well-known microblogging platforms (such as Twitter or Jaiku ), most of which will accept input from PCs, IM clients, or cell phones/SMS. Installing a Twitter application on a lodge website would allow any of the members to post not only event details, but comments about the event, and even pictures. It might be difficult to figure out how to capture a Tweet and put it into usable for in order to make a direct calendar update, but it might not be a good idea anyway, as you would need to control access to prevent adverts and spam.

Certainly there are a lot of options here, and there’s much to think about. I’m sure that our GrandLodge IT guys will enjoy having a word with me at our upcoming Grand Lodge Annual Communication at the end of the month. If any readers have something to add, please feel free to leave a comment so I can pass it along to them.



Queen for a day

November 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Or rather, Grand Master for a year or five.

Fred  Billiken Milliken over on The Beehive has been feeling a bit lazy uninspired, and so he asked a few of his fellow bloggers to write a small essay, with this topic in mind:

You are Grand Master of an American jurisdiction which has just changed its by-laws to give the Grand Master a five year term.  As the first GM to serve five years what proposals, policies and changes would you make to insure the survival of your jurisdiction and promote healthy growth?

Personally, my first thought as to what I would do if I were the GM in Connecticut would be to curl up into a fetal position and hope that it’s all a bad dream.

Of course, I’m sure that some other members of the Craft would have the same reaction to my being a GM, too.

You can read the rest of my essay over on his blog.

Read more…

Masonic Parochialism

October 21, 2008 2 comments

For several years now I’ve gone to Grand Lodge sessions, and each time I’m amazed that a majority of the people attending get there just a few minutes early, and then leave as soon as the gavel bangs the meeting closed. Okay, I’ve never been much of a fan of sitting in meetings, especially meetings in which other people do the talking. In fact, I can imagine that for a lot of people, Grand Lodge sounds like this:

“Blah blah blah… declare the session open … blah blah blah… welcome to the two hundred and mumblety mumbleth annual… blah blah blah… welcome the Past Grand … blah blah blah… presentation by Masonicare… blah blah blah… elections for the next year… blah blah blah… the proposed budget includes … blah blah blah… lack of membership… blah blah blah… new programs will include… blah blah blah… show our appreciation to … blah blah blah… results of the voting… blah blah blah… congratulations to … blah blah blah… please inform the Grand Tyler… blah blah blah… Thank you all for coming.” BANG

Even though it ended a half hour earlier than anyone had expected, some people zoomed out of there so quickly that I thought we were serving free donuts in the lobby.

I don’t get that. For me, the best part about Grand Lodge is the hour before and the hour after the actual meeting; this is the time to get together with people that you don’t normally see every month, to renew old acquaintances, and to hear about what’s happening in other lodges and in other parts of the state. There are not a lot of ways that the Grand Lodge can communicate ideas about its various programs until after they are instituted – which, to my way of thinking – is usually to late. People on various committees who talk about new ideas with the Craft are in a position to get input. The flip side, of course, is that the Craft – that’s you and me – manages to have some input at the planning stage. And, this is the opportunity to meet those junior Grand Lodge officers who are going to be leading the Craft one day.

Additionally, I get to see other District Grand Lecturers so that we can complain discuss the issues in our districts. I have also found that there are a number of old-timers who are full of ideas and opinions – but good ones – and I enjoy talking to them and getting some feedback. And truth be told, I also enjoy listening to the latest gossip news about various lodges and officers and the people I’ve met.

In current business parlance, this is known as “networking.” Now, networking has developed a bad rep, mainly because people imagine a room full of insurance brokers and used car salesmen who are trying to get you to buy something that you don’t want. But consider: we explain to our Fellowcrafts that the pillars representing  Strength and Establishment are adorned with net work because it represents “unity.” And truly, how can we have unity – that is, a cohesive Craft – if members on one end of the state don’t know (or don’t care) what is happening at the other end?

When talking with a few other brothers after the meeting, it came up that very few people had – according to the poll on the Grand Lodge website – visited lodges outside of Connecticut. That led another wag to note that most Masons don’t even visit other lodges inside Connecticut.

Brothers – what’s up with that?

Before a member is even raised, we are talking to him about visiting other lodges. “Wait until you’re a Master Mason,” we love to tell them. “You’ll go to all those other lodges and see how other people do things,” we explain. It’s as if other lodges are foreign countries. In fact, part of our degree ceremonies here in Connecticut do allude to traveling in foreign parts, and how that is one of the benefits of being a Master Mason.

So why do so few of us actually take advantage of that privilege?

Sure, sometimes there is a time factor. Many of us barely make time for our own lodges, even when we know what the schedule will be. Members with a family – or a life – are already juggling evenings off. In my own family, my daughter has music lessons, Girl Scouts, and tutoring, my wife has church meetings, and I have a few non-Masonic duties each month, and I imagine that many families are not much different.

Yet I’m still amazed at the number of masons that I talk to who have never – as in, you know, never – visited another lodge. Others have gone once or twice, but “not in years,” or only for some special program. Simple curiosity isn’t enough to get somebody out of the house and into another lodge once or twice a year?

The underlying attitude that puzzles me – actually, that bothers me – is that too often I get the impression that many members forget that we are all part of a larger organization. I understand that some members feel very strongly connected to their own lodge, and that could possibly be a reason that they do not have much interest in the lodges around them. But still, why bother even mentioning “the ability to travel” if you are not going to avail yourself of the opportunity?

For that matter, why not simply remain a Fellowcraft?



Where can I get a 25 inch Gauge?

September 19, 2008 Leave a comment

The phone calls always start off the same way.

“Tom, I know that it’s short notice, but. . .”

It’s September, so the next round of Ritual Certifications has begun.

In my slice of Connecticut, it’s typical for a lodge to have a “move up” night in which the Junior Warden takes the East for an EA degree, and the Senior Warden does so for an FC degree. Typically, I see this happening in the Fall, which presumably allows time for the JW to learn the part and get comfortable. I have seen a few lodges in which the JW always does an EA, and the SW does the FC degrees, but that arrangement bothers me. In the last decade, too many officers find themselves in the South after only a few years; they’ve barely committed a charge or a lecture to memory. In my opinion, the EA degree is a new brother’s first introduction to Masonry, and it sets the tone for the rest of his Masonic life. I know that a lot of my brothers like to see impressive MM degrees, but if the EA isn’t awesome, then what is going to motivate your new brother to come back and get involved?

Anyway,  my answer to them is usually the same. Yes, of course I’ll come to your degree and do your ritual certification. Would you like me to come to the degree itself, or are you really nervous and would prefer that we do this at a rehearsal? Would you like me to come for the rehearsal and the degree? I’m happy to oblige; that’s why I get  the  big bucks corn, wine, and oil.

The next question is usually the same, too.

“Umm. . . what is it that I need to know for this?”

::headdesk::

Simple. You need to open the lodge in full form, receive a dignitary, go to refreshment, come back to labor, and then close in full form.

“What if I don’t have any dignitary?”

What am I, chopped liv. . . Look, let’s pretend that I’m a dignitary in case a real one doesn’t show up.

“Is it okay if somebody else does the Obligation?”

As long as they do it well. All I need to see is that you can open and close a lodge properly.

“Oh, and by the way. . .”

Yes, I’ll do the charge if your regular guy can’t make it.

Since most lodges are anxious to get back to work after the summer, there are a few EA Degrees in September. I will have seen four or five over the next week or so, which means that communication with my family will be primarily by email, phone calls, and notes taped to the lawn shed, which is where I’ll probably be sleeping by the end of the month.

We had an EA at Friendship on Wednesday, and another on at Sequin-Level on Thursday. Sequin-Level has an abundance of candidates, and they will be having another EA on Friday. Then on Monday, I’m off to Silas Deane, and (finally!) Tuesday I’ll be at Fredrick-Franklin.

Wednesday, I’m taking off to rest up for the rest of the week. No, wait – I can’t.

On Wednesday, Friendship Lodge will start getting ready for the annual Southington Apple Harvest Festival, at which we set up a food booth for our main fundraising event of the year. It takes several days to set up the tents, put down the floor, move the refrigerators and grilltops outside, and get the gas and power hooked up. By Friday evening, we’ll be ready to serve up some Philly steak sandwiches and some tasty fried apple wedgies to the hungry hordes.

On Thursday of that week, we hope to get as many brothers as possible over to Unity 148 in New Britain for our scheduled Blue Lodge Council district meeting, at which we will get to hear one of the great Masonic dummies authors of our times,  Brent Chris Hodapp, who will be telling stories, swapping jokes, and entertaining the Craft, while hopefully selling a few books.

And while Saturday will be the first full day of the Apple Fest, I’ll be down at the Warden’s Seminar in Ashlar Village for the morning, where I’ll be helping to present material about planning one’s year as a WM. We have revamped the entire Master’s Achievement Award to make it more like a yearly calendar, which should help new Masters to organize events and programs for their year.

Sunday the 28th will be the Apple Fest Parade, and you can’t have a parade without the Masons marching by in their tuxedos, smiling and waving at the crowd. Parade day is usually a good day for sandwich and wedgie sales, so we’re all hoping for excellent weather. I will have picked up 600 apples from a popular local orchard, and with any luck, we will be selling out by Sunday evening. Actually, with a real lot of luck, we will sell out on Saturday, and I’ll have to get more.

The next week is a little lighter, with a couple of lodge meetings, and then the Apple Fest madness starts up again on Friday evening. On Saturday morning, I’ll be at the seminar that we run for the incoming Wardens, and then back to help peel more apples and sell more sandwiches. No parade on the next day, but the nice weather will hopefully bring a lot of people out to see the dozens of craft booths that will be lining the streets. Sunday night we will finally break down the equipment and clean the grill for the last time.

If we have planned it right, we have just enough steak left over to make dinner for our Trowel Club meeting on that Monday night. We don’t need much, because by that time, most of us are sick of shaved steak and apples. And since some of us practically live at the lodge during that week, we’ll all be happy to finally have an evening in our own shed home.

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